Inviting your first cat into your home and your life is a seriously exciting time, but it does come with quite a few questions and concerns. It can be somewhat overwhelming knowing where to start when it comes to preparing for your kitten or cat’s arrival, not to mention the administrative tasks like finding a vet and arranging shots, spaying/neutering, or microchipping.
If you’re completely new to all of this, we’ve compiled these top tips for you to use as a guide for your first days, weeks, months, and even years as a cat parent.
The 11 Basic Tips for First-Time Cat Owners
1. Find a Vet
It’s a good idea to start researching vets in your local area before you even bring your cat or kitten home. There’s also nothing wrong with contacting a vet to let them know about your feline friend’s imminent arrival—this way, you can set up your cat’s first vet visit and get advice on the vaccinations they’ll need and flea and deworming treatments.
This gives you peace of mind that you’ll already have a support system in place not only for when your cat arrives but for the course of your cat’s life.
2. Get Your Cat Microchipped
Microchipping is a simple procedure in which your vet inserts a tiny chip under your cat’s skin between their shoulder blades. This chip is linked to a number that, when scanned, allows vets or rescue organizations to find out your contact details. Don’t worry—the chip doesn’t contain information like your address and phone number, these are stored on a private database.
Microchipping can make it so that you’re reunited with your cat if they ever wander too far from home. In some locations, microchipping for cats and/or dogs is a legal requirement for pet owners—Australia and the U.K. are two examples.
3. Consider Spaying/Neutering
Spaying and neutering make it impossible for a cat to reproduce, which can help reduce the risk of certain health issues down the line and reduce the number of unwanted cat pregnancies. It can also eliminate unwanted behaviors like roaming, urine spraying, aggression, and excessive vocalizing that can present in unspayed/unneutered cats.
4. Make Your New Cat Comfortable
Before you bring your cat home, you’ll want to set up an environment for them that is inviting, cozy, and comfortable to help them settle into their new home. We recommend choosing one room to put all their necessities in so they’re not too overwhelmed at first.
In this room, put a cat bed with a roof (like a triangle-shaped bed or a cat condo) that they can hide inside, warm blankets, their litter box, food, and other necessities.
5. Create a “New Cat Checklist”
In addition to a cozy bed, your cat will need some other basics. Creating or following a “new cat checklist” can help you feel more in control. Here’s one to get you started:
6. Manage the Litter Box
Some new cat parents can be surprised at the speed at which a litter box starts to smell funky—even tiny kittens can be responsible for some pretty awful odors, trust us. To keep your home smelling fresh, perform regular spot checks and remove to remove any “eliminations” or litter clumps.
We recommend changing out the litter and giving the litter box a thorough clean with pet-safe products at least once a week, but the frequency really depends on how effective the litter you’re using is. You might want to consider adding baking soda or litter deodorizer to your cat’s box to help keep smells under control.
7. Pick a Quality Food
High-quality cat or kitten food from a reputable brand can go a long way in terms of keeping your cat healthy, their coat shining, and their litter box less stinky. Well-known “premium” brands do have a reputation for being more expensive—a reputation that’s not unfounded in many cases—but you can certainly find more affordable options, too.
8. Give Your New Cat Time
Every cat is an individual and each will adapt to their new environment at different speeds. While some make themselves quite at home within a few hours, some take a few days or even weeks to fully settle. If you’ve adopted a cat from a rescue organization, they may have had trauma in their past and so may need a bit more time to feel relaxed in the new environment.
When you first bring your cat home, place the carrier you transported them in in the room you’ve set up for the cat—ideally a quiet room. Open the carrier and let them come out and explore at their own pace, making sure there’s food, water, and a litter box close to the carrier’s door.
If your cat is reluctant to come out of the carrier, don’t force them. They may not eat much or even at all for the first day due to the stress of the change—this is normal.
When it comes to bonding with your new kitten or cat, let them come to you first. Feel free to spend time near them in the room but avoid fussing over them or picking them up before they’re ready. If they do approach you, try stroking them gently to see how they respond. If they welcome the attention, carry on! If they back away or seem cautious, they need more time to get used to you.
9. Teach Kids How to Interact With Your Cat
If you have children, teach them how to gently and sensibly interact with your new cat or kitten.
Kids will no doubt be excited when a new cat comes home and will want to spend time stroking or cuddling with them and bolder, more confident kittens may be happy to oblige, but if your cat or kitten is nervous, coach your children to wait it out with you and let the cat come to them.
It might be a good idea, if possible, to give your cat some time to get used to the room they’re in before introducing them to children and other family members. Early interactions should be very calm and quiet to avoid frightening or overwhelming the cat.
10. Introduce Other Pets Gradually
As with introducing your new cat to human family members, you’ll need to take your time when it comes to introducing other pets. You may need to wait for up to a week to give your new cat time to settle before you introduce them to their furry brothers and sisters. Allow your new cat to explore your home only when other pets aren’t around at first and use “their” room as a base.
A good idea is to allow your pets and new cat to get used to each other’s scent. You can do this by swapping their bedding or giving them items with each other’s scent. Stroke each pet regularly without washing your hands to transfer the scent from one pet to another.
When you do introduce your pets for the first time, be on hand to supervise closely. If you’re worried about how another pet will react, consider using a leash and introducing them from a distance—possibly from behind a gate or screen door at first—to keep all involved safe. From here, you can gradually progress to supervised face-to-face meetings if your pets are responding well to each other.
When your pets interact non-aggressively with each other, reward them with praise and a treat to create positive associations.
11. Cat-Proof Your Home
You’ll want to make sure your home is as safe as possible for your new cat. This means checking out which plants are and are not toxic, making sure your cat can’t come into contact with harmful chemicals or dangerous objects (i.e., candles), and setting up window guards to prevent your cat from falling or escaping. It’s also a good idea to make sure your cat can’t get hold of any wires and cables.
If you’re a first-time cat parent and are worried about how your cat will settle in, the best advice we can offer you is to prepare in advance to make the process less stressful for both you and your cat.
The good news is that cats are really adaptable—though it may take some longer than others, as long as their environment is clean and safe and they’re with a loving family, they will settle with a bit of time and patience.
Featured Image Credit: Veera, Shutterstock